Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam narrowly retained his FIFA executive committee seat yesterday after one of the most vitriolic battles regional soccer has known.
The 60-year-old Qatari survived a challenge from Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa by winning a tense vote at the AFC congress in Kuala Lumpur by 23 to 21. Two ballots were spoiled.
It culminated a bitter fight for power in which bin Hammam, who has held the FIFA position since 1996, had threatened to step down as the head of the AFC — Asia’s most powerful soccer figure — if he was defeated.
Salman accepted his defeat gracefully but said it was clear Asia was divided — and that bringing all its 46 member nations back together must be the priority.
“I congratulated the president. We need to turn the page and move forward,” he said. “But my message is clear, we have 21 countries unhappy. We have to ask why they are unhappy and the president needs to win back their confidence.”
Despite his victory, bin Hammam, whose AFC term runs until 2011, faces a difficult few years ahead, with the Asian confederation riven by animosity, despite attempts yesterday to play it down.
The campaign to oust him, led by heavyweights Kuwait, South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia, was highlighted by allegations of corruption and vicious personal attacks.
Bin Hammam’s detractors say he is dictatorial and that there is no transparency in the organization’s financial affairs.
They were also concerned about his proposal to move AFC headquarters from Malaysia and a plan to sign a 12-year marketing deal with World Sport Group.
But before the vote, bin Hammam asked for the agenda item dealing with the plan to move AFC House to be removed, which was greeted by wide applause.